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Good luck, Ohio

Ohio’s governor John Kasich has signed into law a ban on abortion performed on the basis of Down syndrome. I’m going to call back to a post I wrote last year when Mike Pence signed a similar law for Indiana:

Before I go into what’s so horrible about this bill, I want to first acknowledge that it’s almost certainly blatantly unconstitutional. To my knowledge, there is no legal basis for banning abortions that would otherwise be legal based on the reason a woman wants one. And Indiana’s law doesn’t just ban abortions performed because of fetal disability– it also bans abortions based on the race, color, national origin, ancestry, or sex of the fetus. Abortion was deemed a fundamental right in Roe v. Wade, and fundamental rights can’t be abridged based on a person’s motive for exercising them. One would think.

Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, made a great comment about the specifications of the bill: “They basically took non-discrimination language and made it an abortion ban.”  It’s always fun when conservatives pretend to care about diversity and egalitarianism purely for the sake of trying to make liberals look like hypocrites. What’s not fun is that this tactic is often remarkably effective, because on first blush a liberal might fully agree that women shouldn’t abort based on any of those factors. After all, none of these traits are the kid’s fault!  They’re circumstances of birth!

Yeah, well…there’s a problem there. Because we’re not talking about a kid. We’re not talking about about circumstances of birth, because we’re not talking about someone about someone who has been born. A fetus that is aborted will never experience discrimination, because that fetus will not experience anything. A fetus does not care why it was aborted, because a fetus doesn’t care about anything. The result of abortion is the same for every fetus, regardless of why the abortion occurred.

If we agree that a fetus is not a person (in the legal sense), then the fetus has no rights.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, the right to privacy, or the right not to be discriminated against (which, again, social conservatives don’t generally support in the first place)– non-people do not have rights.

If we don’t agree that a fetus isn’t a person, which is to say, you think they are people…then every abortion is equally murder. Reasons don’t matter. We don’t just ban murders that take place because of discrimination– they’re illegal regardless.  So in that respect, passing a law that forbids abortion for discriminatory reasons is implicitly acknowledging that fetuses aren’t people.

And, in fact, the Ohio ACLU has called Kasich’s version of the law “blatantly unconstitutional”:

The ACLU of Ohio opposes this unconstitutional attack on reproductive freedom, which blatantly violates long-standing legal precedent prohibiting bans on abortion before viability.

 A woman should be able to decide whether or not to terminate a pregnancy in consultation with those she trusts. HB 214 inappropriately inserts politics into private medical deliberations, and would discourage open, honest communication between a woman and her doctor.

 It is not the government’s role to decide what can and cannot pass through a woman’s mind before deciding to have an abortion. This type of ban sets a dangerous precedent, and opens the door for politicians to further intrude into women’s personal health decisions.

 The ACLU of Ohio opposes discrimination in all forms, and works to ensure that people with disabilities are treated with equality and dignity. However, this purposely divisive legislation is about restricting abortion, not protecting against discrimination. Instead of wasting more tax dollars on this political crusade against reproductive health care, legislators should focus on addressing the serious concerns of those with disabilities in our communities.

The last I heard about Indiana’s law was that a federal judge blocked it. Let’s hope the same happens for Ohio, but you’d think that instead of spending all of the time, energy, and taxpayer funds getting an obviously unconstitutional law passed, Kasich would be bright enough to look at what happened in Indiana and just not bother. 

Inside (outside) football

Photo credit: AP/Gene J. Puskar

The insider-outsider problem in the study of religion entails that an insider in a religious tradition has an advantage of insight, while an outsider has an advantage of objectivity.

Which is to say, the insider can tell you what it feels like to participate in the religion, what’s compelling about it, while the outsider can tell you about the less attractive and even harmful features of the religion.

The most recent episode of the Freakonomics podcast shows the insider/outsider problem in the study of brain damage caused by playing football.

John Urschel, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens and current PhD student of mathematics of MIT, retired from the Ravens after learning about the prevalence of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) in career football players. He had observed his own reduction in thinking skills following a concussion, and concluded that the risk of getting CTE, while still largely an unknown, was enough of a threat to his ability to study mathematics to justify quitting the Ravens and football in general.

So John is absolutely a football insider. The neuroscience researchers and journalist interviewed on the podcast are insiders– they describe, at every opportunity, their passionate and long-lasting love of football. They do this to emphasize how emotionally difficult it is to criticize the NFL for failing to acknowledge the incidences of CTE, and generally to point out a real problem with how the game they love is played.

And they also do this, no doubt, to soften the anticipated antagonism or skepticism of what they have to say as outsiders– that football as it is played today is highly likely to cause brain damage to career players and possibly amateurs as well.

(See also: How Anita Sarkeesian has had to repeatedly emphasize how much she loves video games, even while pointing out sexist elements in those games.)

I have no use for football, so could more easily adopt the role of the objective outsider on CTE in football players, but as a result, you would see me advocating for much more strident changes to rules, and stronger condemnation of the NFL for being slow to respond to legitimate criticism.

And that’s why it’s called the insider-outsider problem— is the outsider really so objective, if she has no sympathy to the value that others find in the practice she’s criticizing? Is the insider really so insightful, if her love of the practice blinds her to the valid criticisms that can be made?

Of course the potential ability of the insider and outsider, respectively, to influence and persuade others of their point of view is also highly dependent on their status. Some football-lovers undoubtedly would not listen to stories about brain damage caused by football if the news comes from someone who doesn’t establish their football-lover cred first. On the other hand, those with apathy or even antipathy to football, for one reason or another, might suspect the insider’s criticism of being incomplete or not fully representative of the actual problem it describes.

So you might conclude– okay, then we need both insiders and outsiders. Yes, we do. But insiders and outsiders are always going to exist, so more than that, we need to listen to both insiders and outsiders. And further, we need to be careful about demanding that someone genuflect sufficiently to demonstrate their status as an insider before listening to them, or even simply accept insider status as a prerequisite on its own for accepting what they have to say.

Obvious? Yes, when I state it like that. But nobody’s immune to the bias of favoring the perspectives of insiders in their own groups. Crafty politicians play shamelessly to this bias by portraying themselves as insiders of whatever group they happen to be speaking to, to great effect. Tribalism is rampant in skepticism, in movement politics, even in casual hobby groups, and it comes from the implicit assumption that insiders know what they’re talking about while outsiders don’t….except, of course, when the outsider is you.

So this is just a friendly reminder to consider the perspectives of outsiders (other than yourself). Common ground can be found at a deeper level than group membership.  For example, maybe you love football and I couldn’t care less, but (hopefully) we both care about avoiding brain damage.

New site, and update

As you may have noticed, I’ve been drawing a lot of comics lately. I’ve become disenchanted with the impact of straight-up writing, and decided to try my hand at combining some words with some images and see how that goes. If I may say so, it seems to be going pretty well so far– although some attempts have been a bit rough, there does appear to be a wavering upward trajectory.

On the day of the election, I created some characters in my head to play out the sort of conversations I saw around me, or those I wanted to see around me. If you create a continuing cast of characters in a comic, and you post that comic on the web, I believe it’s called a “webcomic.” So I created a webcomic, apparently.

As you may also have noticed, the comics that belong to that series have vanished from this particular page. That’s because they’ve moved to a new page called Giant If, their new home. I plan to continue drawing comics for this series as long as they occur to me, which might well be for the next four years. Check it out if you feel so inclined.

Making the new site also encouraged me to do something I’ve not done before, which is creating a Patreon. I started this blog in 2010 and have written for it since then without any sort of external funding from ads or anywhere else, and decided that maybe it’s worth a try.*

Patreon lets you choose to let people pledge a certain amount of money per month, or a certain amount of money per thing you produce (in my case, comics).  Both have a cap, so you can for example decide to pledge $1 per comic with a cap of $10 per month, or whatever.  I think that’s a pretty handy way to both a) require someone to produce something before you make any payment for it, and yet b) prevent yourself accidentally paying a larger amount than you expected if your donee suddenly starts producing at a higher rate than you’d expected.

I also put a link to my Amazon wishlist on there, because what the hell.

That does not mean that Cheap Signals is coming to an end, btw. You’ll see that I haven’t (yet) removed or relocated the comics I’ve been making that aren’t part of the Giant If series. That’s because I’m not sure where they really belong– do I want to make this blog solely about writing, and that one solely about comics (of all kinds)?  I don’t currently know, and advice would be welcome. But right now I plan to continue to do writing, at the very least, right here.

This blog, she is not dead. I’m still making stuff– I can’t not.

*There’s also a donation button on this page, if you’re interested in becoming the first person to use it.

“Summer of Justice” recap

Hot.

The so-called “Summer of Justice” protest week was…hot.

Wichita, Kansas, site of the original 1991 so-called “Summer of Mercy” protests, for which these protests were intended to be an anniversary celebration and renewal, has been experiencing a heat wave. Not exactly unusual for the third week in July. But that’s the week chosen by Rusty Thomas, director of Operation Save America, who went on to say “I pray what God began in 1991, he’s going to complete in 2016.”

Not being God, I can only offer my own view: I hope the “completed” part is true.

Wouldn’t that be nice? Last Thursday, during the protest week, David S. Cohen, co-author of the new book Living in the Crosshairs: The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism, gave a talk at a local bookstore. He told the stories of abortion providers who have been harassed, threatened, and in some cases outright attacked in the decades since Roe v. Wade was decided.

He told us of doctors, medical assistants, clinic owners, and volunteers who have been forced to wear disguises and take alternate routes to work because of threats, whose children have been stalked at school, and in one case had her personal information including home address published in a “newsletter” that was distributed to pro-life prisoners currently serving time. Yes, pro-life violent criminals were informed, during their prison sentence, that the only way to stop abortionists is with a bullet and by the way, here’s one of their home addresses.

At this point, I had already contacted Trust Women to express a desire to do something to help during the upcoming anniversary protest. Operation Save America had been kind enough to publish an anticipated schedule for the week, including speakers (note the gender of all involved), and I wanted to be useful in some way during what would surely be a stressful time for both South Wind Women’s Center (Dr. George Tiller’s former clinic: see this post and this post) and the Planned Parenthood central Wichita location.

I’ve gone to this Planned Parenthood location several times, with a positive experience each time. But security is something of a concern. At the Repro Rally on July 9, Planned Parenthood was accepting volunteers to act as escorts from the parking lot to the door of the clinic. South Wind, by contrast, has a secure private parking lot, which is something of a luxury in that it doesn’t seem to be very common for clinics that provide abortion services (though it should, in my humble view, be ubiquitous and government-funded).

So my initial question for Trust Women/South Wind was whether they’d like support in the form of counter-protest, and was told no– actually, engaging the protesters would be counter productive. But maybe I could be a legal observer?  A legal observer’s job is to observe, obviously, via your eyes and ears and video recording device and camera and notepad and however else you can notice, record, and document what’s going on. Not being a confrontational person (to put it lightly), this seemed to me an ideal way to help out.  What, you mean I don’t have to shout at people who hate me?  I can just be present, and pay attention? Sign me up!

So I was signed up. I got trained. I met some really cool people in the process, whose identities I won’t give here for privacy’s sake, but I can say this: Everybody cared. Everybody wanted to do something to defend the right to an abortion on the ground, against an onslaught of people who want to attack it on that level.

But we weren’t fighting– we were explicitly not fighting. That, of course, didn’t stop protesters from approaching us, once they figured out that we weren’t part of their group. We didn’t make it blatantly obvious, of course– no pro-choice t-shirts or signs. Just some people wandering around, watching, who were distinguished somewhat by the fact that we weren’t wearing t-shirts with big crosses on them or waving signs.

I trained on one day, and observed on two days following that. The protesters who approached me, on both days, were always men. Men over the age of 35, of varying degrees of politeness ranging from “Have a nice day” to “What you’re doing is evil, and I hope you know that.”

The number of signs and slogans that co-opted Black Lives Matter, and the wider movement against police racism and brutality, was astonishing.

No one, to my knowledge, was arrested. There was ample police presence, and the police officers were friendly to everyone. From what I observed they didn’t interact much with either the protesters or the legal observers. I was profoundly grateful for their presence– for obvious reasons, but also because it made my job decidedly easier.

So let’s talk about that now. Let’s talk about how last Saturday, the final day of the protest, I was observing until the official end, and I observed several protesters walk up to police officers and thank them for not arresting them. The “Thank you” part is great– no issue with that.  The “…for not arresting us” part is slightly different.

Pro-life protesters: They weren’t not arresting you because they’re nice, or because they respect or agree with you. They weren’t arresting you because, for the most part, you weren’t breaking the law.

The police are not on a crusade to arrest the virtuous pro-lifer at the behest of the evil abortion provider– they’re there to enforce the law, and the abortion providers and volunteers are happy to see them do it.  Due to the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE Act, protesters may not physically prevent doctors or other clinic personnel from entering the clinic, and you did not do that. You just shouted at them, with microphones and amplifiers. For the most part, you stayed where it was legal to stay. That is why you didn’t get arrested.

Freedom of speech protects your right to gather in groups and tell lies on the sidewalk. For better or for worse.

And boy, were there a lot of lies.

I often wonder about how the pro-life movement would look if everyone, nationwide, actually understood what abortion is.

When I see a pro-life lie about abortion, I have long since stopped thinking in terms of “liars for Jesus,” because there’s one critical problem with admonishing people for their supposed hypocrisy in violating one of the Ten Commandments in the name of their faith: You cannot lie if you don’t know what you’re saying is untrue. And I honestly don’t think they know.  They haven’t ever been taught the truth, so they don’t know that what they’re proclaiming is a lie.

Ignorance is the greatest enemy of human rights.

These people think that Planned Parenthood sells baby parts.

These people think there is such a thing as “post abortive syndrome,” where women who get abortions find themselves in a state of long-lasting regret and even self-destructive behavior afterward.

These people think that women get abortions because they are promiscuous, lazy, and/or selfish.

These people think that abortion harms/risks your body in ways that pregnancy and giving birth do not.

These people think that providing abortion services for minorities, who, due to poverty, are in greater need of abortion services, is racist.

These people preach against homosexuality and birth control at the same time as abortion, because they think “be fruitful and multiply” is a God-given mandate.

These people think that “viable” means a fetus is a healthy baby.

These people think banning abortion would end the killing of babies, rather than resume the killing and imprisonment of women.

These people think that abortion providers, people receiving abortions, and people defending the right to abortion don’t know what they’re doing. They think we don’t know what abortion is.

Ignorance really is the greatest enemy of human rights.

Happy not to be on that team

I can’t help wondering if, after having established his character Dilbert as the office Everyman, Scott Adams has somehow welded himself permanently into that role– in his own perception, at least. That perhaps after such a long time of speaking to the Dilberts of America and the world, Adams has managed to convince himself that he also speaks for them. 


Or maybe not. Maybe it’s just your typical bigot universalism tendency. Maybe that’s what it always has been. Either way, Adams has decided that the Democratic National Convention is very likely lowering the testosterone of American men, and thereby their happiness, on a national scale. 


Why is this? Because the celebration of woman aspiring to positions of power that they have never held throughout the country’s history– specifically, the presidency– makes Adams feel defeated:

I watched singer Alicia Keys perform her song Superwoman at the convention and experienced a sinking feeling. I’m fairly certain my testosterone levels dropped as I watched, and that’s not even a little bit of an exaggeration. Science says men’s testosterone levels rise when they experience victory, and drop when they experience the opposite. I watched Keys tell the world that women are the answer to our problems. True or not, men were probably not feeling successful and victorious during her act. Let me say this again, so you know I’m not kidding. Based on what I know about the human body, and the way our thoughts regulate our hormones, the Democratic National Convention is probably lowering testosterone levels all over the country. Literally, not figuratively. And since testosterone is a feel-good chemical for men, I think the Democratic convention is making men feel less happy. They might not know why they feel less happy, but they will start to associate the low feeling with whatever they are looking at when it happens, i.e. Clinton.

I’m sure that you– but perhaps not Adams– have already heard the aphorism “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” Maybe you’ve acknowledged it, though, without trying to stop and consider whether it really feels like oppression.  I can’t actually say, one way or another– I don’t know of any scientific studies that can verify it (though if you do, please let me know).

And Adams is making a scientific statement here. He’s saying that watching and listening to Alicia Keys perform Superwoman made him feel like a loser. That this feeling of non-triumph means lower testosterone, and therefore that this feeling must be spreading across the country and lowering testosterone levels on a national scale.  Wow!

So what if he’s right? Let’s just assume he is, for the sake of argument.

Power can certainly be a zero-sum game– if someone gains it, somebody else is losing it. Adams described the feeling he was having as like losing. Being non-triumphant. I believe him about that. I believe that to someone who sees the world in hierarchical terms and has bought stock in just-world bias, equality feels like losing.

He gets two things wrong about this, though.

First, he thinks that because he feels like a loser, he’s been somehow wronged. “Superwoman” apparently profoundly disturbed his worldview, and rather than question that worldview he blames the song, Alisha Keys, the DNC, Hillary Clinton, or all of the above for harming him. I feel bad, those people made me feel bad, those people are wrong!

Second, he universalizes– he thinks that all American men feel bad, or should feel bad, right along with him. He wants to bring a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all men against feeling bad, without ever checking to see whether everybody else who identifies as male feels like a loser too. Presumably at least some of them don’t– there were men at the DNC, right? A few of them? Was any footage captured of them bending over in agony while Alisha Keys was singing, protecting their genitalia?

That’s a common tendency of bigots– white supremacists assume that all white people are white supremacists, homophobes assume all straight people are homophobes, etc. and that anyone who isn’t is either lying or a traitor. Scott Adams, of course, assumes that all men are as threatened as he is by women in powerful positions.

Thankfully, he’s mistaken about that.

Let me restate that more emphatically– thankfully, Scott Adam is wrong. He does not get to speak for mankind, any more than any other fearful member of the majority gets to speak against a minority.

When I posted about this on Facebook, my friend Ben Pobjie commented:

He assumes that being male is like being on a team, and we all put that team first and identify with other members of that team before all else. I might be threatened by women in powerful positions if I thought I was on the same team as Scott Adams, and that the purpose of life was to be on the winning team.

When you think in those terms, it’s really a choice you make– do you define your “team” based on incidental characteristics and then push for them to win, whatever “winning” is supposed to mean? Or do you choose your team based on what they say and do, regardless of these other differences, and work together for common goals rather than common traits?

I seem to have less and less time, these days, for people who choose the former.

How many more?

Three more police officers were killed today, in Baton Rouge. Three injured. The same word used as in Dallas— “ambush.”

The fear and despair I’m feeling right now are mostly due to three beliefs: that such killings a) might have been inevitable, b) will certainly only make things worse, and c) may well happen again.

Black Lives Matter is of course both a slogan and a movement, and the movement’s leaders have disavowed violence against police officers. But America is certainly fond of binary thinking of the “you’re with us or against us” variety. Onlookers have gathered in a circle around this conflict like a group of children yelling “Fight! Fight!” Especially those who have drawn a line of allegiance between BLM and The Police, and have donned their #AllLivesMatter, #BlueLivesMatter, and “I Can Breathe” t-shirts to signify which side they’ve chosen.

My friend Ed Brayton remarked that he was experiencing writer’s block in the wake of the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille, followed by the killing of five police officers in Dallas.  But he still managed to make the following observation that I think should be preserved:

This is not the least bit surprising to anyone who has paid attention to the problem over the years. And so we have the Black Lives Matter movement protesting against such injustice and brutality. And while you may dislike some of their tactics, they are right on the core issue. Our criminal justice system really is racist from top to bottom. Anyone who denies that cannot possibly have seen all the data that supports it, data that I have been presenting for more than a decade. And then we have two men who gunned down 11 police officers in Dallas on Thursday night, at the end of a long and peaceful protest against this injustice. What they did is horrifying and wrong in every possible way and it will do nothing but undermine efforts to address the problem. But unlike the unjust and racist treatment of black people in this country, that is an incident that is merely anecdotal, not systemic. But let’s also recognize that it was virtually inevitable. I have been saying this for years: When you oppress people, you radicalize them. If you do nothing to address legitimate grievances and fix problems, it is inevitable that some small portion of the victims of that oppression are going to choose violence as a response. That doesn’t justify it, but it does help explain it. If you cannot change as a result of non-violent protest, you make violent protest inevitable. And here’s the real problem: All this does is perpetuate the cycle of violence. Like the Hatfields and McCoys, every act of violence is then used to justify the next reprisal, which is then used to justify the next one, and the next one. At some point, the violence has to stop. But the only ones who can really stop it are those with power, which means law enforcement, courts and politicians. Violence on the part of those who protest against state-sanctioned killing is a response to the misuse of power, not an expression of power. It is up to those with power to fix this. No one else can.

What I fear is that Ed is right…but that those with power will not fix this. That they will just double down, using the killing of these officers as justification.

By all accounts, BLM and the police of Dallas actually had a decent relationship prior to the post-protest ambush, and hopefully will manage to repair that relationship in the wake of it.  The same probably cannot be said of Baton Rouge. But that’s kind of the point– these things differ from state to state, city to city. Police departments have different approaches, including Richmond, California police chief Chris Magnus’s decision to stress de-escalation and the development of a positive relationship with citizens above all else.

Here in Wichita, a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally last Tuesday led both protesters and police to declare the event a success, and they’re holding a cookout tonight, in lieu of another march, in the spirit of improving community relations.

All of which tells me that progress is being made on a local level. Quantifiable measures like the increase of police departments using body cameras are one way to recognize this, but of course body cams aren’t a panacea– no simple increase in accountability can be, though we still absolutely need increased accountability!

But what we also need, so very desperately, is a paradigm shift.  Nationally, we have to recognize that being opposed to racism and brutality in a police force is absolutely not the same as being anti-cop (any more, as one meme noted, than being anti-child abuse is the same as being anti-parent).

We have to acknowledge that the more police officers are different and separated from the communities in which they operate, the more empathy for people in those communities is diminished. No police department is an occupying force. Every police department is composed of human beings entrusted with tremendous power and authority to enforce the law, who are still human beings.  For better and for worse.

The “for betters” like the examples of Chris Magnus, like Wichita’s police chief Gordon Ramsay (yes, our police chief’s name is Gordon Ramsay and he’s organizing a cookout– what?) should be encouraged, rewarded, and perpetuated.

And when it comes to the “for worse,” to the biases and cover-ups and abuses…there are ways to counteract these. We absolutely must work to counteract these.  Our local communities and our national community depend on it.

Too adult to Pokemon

The late comedian Mitch Hedberg had a joke about Little League. It went like this: “I wish I could play Little League now; I’d kick some fuckin’ ass.”

Pokemon Go is not Little League.

Pokemon Go is a mobile game that anybody with a smart phone can play, and apparently nearly everybody is playing it. Everybody, that is, except for a few stalwart defenders of the dignity of adulthood, who maintain that they’re not playing that game because it’s for kids.

I feel sorry for those people.

I used to be one of those people.

See, I’ve been playing video games all my life, starting with the Atari 2600 and never stopping, so the notion that video games in general are just for kids has never held water for me. But somehow when Pokemon came to the United States in the late 90’s, I decided that this particular video game franchise was for kids, and therefore not me.

I made a similar error with Harry Potter– these books are for ten-year-olds! Aren’t the adults reading them embarrassed?

Turns out no, they’re not. They’re just happily enjoying a series of books in genre of fiction that they happen to love, and which are– from all I’ve heard– really good (I still haven’t gotten around to reading the books, but that’s no longer because I’m too busy sneering at them. Just haven’t had time to read them.)

But I have started playing Pokemon (currently level 11, Team Instinct), because I realized that I’m no longer too old too enjoy it. I never was.

An adult enjoying Pokemon is unlike an adult playing Little League, or taking part in an Easter egg hunt, or trick-or-treating, because those things are all zero-sum games. An adult taking part in them means that children don’t get to, or at least don’t get to take part to the extent that they otherwise would.

Unless you’re literally knocking children out of the way to capture a Pokemon, which would be wrong regardless, your playing the game is not trampling on anybody.  Do not listen to the haters saying otherwise. But also if you aren’t interested in playing, don’t play. I doubt there’s a video game player alive who is interested in all genres of games equally, and you can’t play them all, even if you wanted to.

But don’t be a hater yourself.  As a frequently-quoted Adam Ellis cartoon says, “Shhh. Let people enjoy things.”

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